photo source: lincolnlogcabin.org
The Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site is a memorial site near the town of Lerna, Illinois. The site is maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. It lies on 86 acres and contains a reconstructed model of the log cabin that Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas, built and resided in. After Abraham’s mother died in 1818, his father and new stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, moved from Indiana to this site in Illinois. Abraham, who was a lawyer in Springfield at the time, did not live in the two-room cabin but did help his father with the finances of the home.
The original log cabin built in 1818 was brought to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, so in 1935 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed an exact model of the cabin as a memorial project during the Great Depression. Surrounding the cabin is a working site of memory, where a farm that mirrors the Lincolns’ farm in the 1800s helps visitors to imagine what life was like for the family during that time.
Photo source: panoramio.com
At the replica of the site, there are workers dressed in 19th century inspired costumes walking around the farm. During a special event, actors participated in a scene in which they pretended to be Sarah and Thomas Lincoln, who received a visit from the then lawyer Abraham. These scenes are narrativizations of Lincoln’s life, in which the audience is taken back through time and seems to live in the moment that Lincoln lived. Students of all ages are able to participate in this narrativization of memory through programs put on by the State Historic Site. These programs, like the Fifth Grade Program and the Summer Youth Program allow students to dress in attire and perform tasks that are mirrored after the time of Lincoln. These programs are used to conserve the site, and therefore conserve the memory of Lincoln. This site becomes a bubble, where the real world is happening outside of it but to anyone there, it is life as it was in the time of Lincoln. The historic site memorializes Thomas and Sarah’s last years, as well as Abraham’s life before his first term as the President of the United States.
Additional to the log house at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site is a museum. Items from the Lincoln household, such as broken dishes, are on display for visitors to view. Visitors can also hear clips from mannequins, talking about the times in which Lincoln lived. For sale at the museum gift shop are items like pieces of brick, hats modeled after Lincoln’s, and fake beards. Because the original log cabin no longer exists, the bricks for purchase come from Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois. Museums encompass material memory, for they hold many artifacts that bring the viewer back into the time where these materials were prominent. The items sold at the Lincoln museum are material memories of Lincoln’s life. Although they do not directly relate to his father’s cabin, they bring back the memory of Lincoln’s life and attract more interest from the visitors at the site.
Outside of the actual site of the log cabin, Lincoln Logs are sold in stores everywhere for children to play with. Lincoln Logs were created in 1916 and serve as another form of commemoration for Lincoln’s life. The commercialization of the homes of Lincoln and his family allow for his memory to be carried outside of where he lived and to the rest of the nation. Even the State Historic Site offers a tutorial on how to create a model log cabin after Lincoln’s home. By recreating the log cabin in Illinois, whether it be through Lincoln Logs or other methods—an association has developed in the minds of citizens between Lincoln and his log cabins. These material memories further enable the connection of people today with Lincoln in the 1800s.
The physical place of Thomas Lincoln’s home was of little importance while Abraham Lincoln was alive and not yet as accomplished as he soon would be. It was only after he became one of the most well known presidents in the United States’ history that the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site became a historic site of memory. This reason is explained by retrospective nominalization. Retrospective nominalization occurs when the present is used to understand and give significant meaning to the past. Like the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Kentucky, or the National Boyhood Memorial in Indiana, his father’s home was not given meaning until Lincoln accomplished all that he did. Before, these sites were simply homes that the Lincoln family occupied. Retrospective nominalization gives significance to this home; because of Lincoln’s status in America today, his father’s home is more than just a home. It allows citizens to relive the past of one of America’s greatest presidents, and to feel more connected to a time long before them.
“Lincoln Log Cabin.” Lincoln Log Cabin. Lincoln Log Cabin Foundation. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.lincolnlogcabin.org>.
“Lincoln Log Cabin, But Not Abe Lincoln’s, Lerna, Illinois.” RoadsideAmerica.com. Web. 22 Mar. 2015. <http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/19054>
“Lincoln Logs.” LINCOLN LOGS. Hasbro. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <http://www.knex.com/products/lincoln-logs/>.
The News-Gazette. “Lincoln Log Cabin Hosts Event This Weekend.” News Gazette 2 May 2003. News Gazette. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/332658464?accountid=14244>.